Archive for category Writing Exercises

Every little helps…

Writing is a frustrating occupation with little reward. It’s easy to get fed up with the rejections, the publications thatScented Candle don’t bother to reply at all and that blank piece of paper which refuses to be filled with wonderful prose.

So why do any of us keep writing? Why do we pick up a pen or drag ourselves to the keyboard day after day? Is it the pleasure of losing ourselves in another world (in which case it would be easier to just pick up a book written by somebody else)?

Hope is what keeps me going. Hope that the editor might like this article pitch, hope that this story might win the competition or this reader’s letter might bag me the star prize.

This hope is fired by small incidents and minor successes along the way – things that cheer me up when the bigger prizes are eluding me.

One of these was my writing group’s Christmas meeting last week. Our new program secretary, Moira, organised a fun competition for a piece of writing containing the phrase ‘It happened every Christmas’ – with prizes from her attic store cupboard. We all took some food (there was way too much food!) and listened to everyone’s entries. We had fiction, poems, memoir and articles. Moira had the unenviable task of awarding the prizes. I received a scented candle in a pretty box (pictured). It may not be an award to add to my CV but it gave me a boost.

A couple of days ago I met up with my writing buddy, Helen. She didn’t award me any prizes but I did get inspired from our chat about plans for 2012. I came away knowing that I have to produce a certain amount of finished work otherwise I’ll let the side down.

Finally, I’ve been shortlisted in the latest Emerald Writing Workshops competition.  It’s good to see a couple of other familiar names on the list – fellow blogger, Susan Jones and Sharon Bee who runs the Fiction Addiction website. Fingers crossed for us all!

So, maybe I haven’t won the Booker this month but there have been plenty of little things to keep me going!

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Novel Writing Booster Kit with Martin Davies

The other Saturday I attended a novel-writing ‘booster’ workshop with the author, Martin Davies at Mackworth library.

what happens inside

The aim was to build on what we had learnt earlier in the year at his ‘starter’ workshop .

Martin set lots of exercises to get the pen moving over the page and thus prove to ourselves that ‘writing’ isn’t some wonderful magical gift that you must have in bucket loads in order to succeed – instead tenacity is one of the qualities most useful to a writer.

Once again Martin was very generous with his advice and I came away with the following tips jotted down:

  • If a minor character is feeling 2-dimensional, give him an unusual hobby to flesh him out
  • Before you begin your novel, write a 2 sentence or ‘elevator’ pitch – and repeat this exercise at regular intervals to make sure you’re not going off at a tangent
  • The odd observed detail will bring your settings and characters to life – not swathes of description
  • When setting a scene, mention one big thing e.g. the mountain that dominated the landscape, and one small thing e.g. the cigarette burn on the table-cloth.
  • Finish the first draft without looking back over your work AT ALL
  • In preparation for the second draft  print out the manuscript and read it through, marking any corrections/changes as you go – don’t change anything yet because you’ll lose the momentum of how the story flows. When you’ve read & marked to the end you can begin changing the text. Repeat this as many times as necessary.
  • Read aloud to check the flow of the story.
  • Write what you feel excited and moved by.
  • Don’t tell other people what your novel is about – it will make it feel stale to you. 

So now I’m trying to pluck up the courage to go back to the Pocket Novel that I completed in the summer. I need to turn that rough first draft into something comprehensible – or maybe I’ll decide that it’s rubbish and bin it! But, as Martin said, no writing is wasted – it’s all practice for better writing.

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48 Minutes to a Magazine Article

This post is being brought to you in association with Sally Quilford’s 48th Birthday Celebrations on August 11th 2011.

Many of us whinge that we don’t have enough time to write. Home and work commitments are always getting in the way -I use this as an excuse for my lack of writing as much as anyone. So, here is a 7 day plan that involves writing for just 48 minutes per day and by the end of it you should have a short article all ready to go.

  • Day 1 – visit a large newsagent and spend 48 minutes finding your market. Look for a magazine that covers something you know at least little about (i.e. write what you know so that the research isn’t too onerous). Check out the list of staff in the front of the magazine and compare to the ‘by’ lines on each article in order to check how much is written in-house and much is freelance provided. Buy the magazine you think you could write something for. (N.B. In a perfect world you would buy 2 or 3 issues of the magazine over a number of weeks/months in order to get a feel for which articles are regular columns and which are the one-off freelance features that we are aiming at) .
  • Day 2 – make yourself a cup of coffee and sit down with a large sheet of paper. Set a timer for 48 minutes and then brainstorm! Dream up as many article ideas as possible for your chosen publication. For example, if you’ve chosen a dog magazine then your list could include ‘How to Choose a Dog Walker’, ’10 Tips for Taking Your Dog on Holiday’  or ‘Famous People and their Dogs’.
  • Day 3 – choose which of the articles shows the most promise and spend 48 minutes writing an outline. Include an introduction (not too long – get straight to the point of the article), each point that you want to make and a conclusion.
  • Day 4 – pitch the idea, via email, to the editor of the magazine. If you want some help on how to put together the perfect pitch have a look at Simon Whaley’s article here
  • Day 5 – start writing the article. If you don’t want to stop after 48 minutes that’s fine – keep going whilst the enthusiasm is high! Hopefully by now you’ll have stopped looking for displacement activities like cleaning out the kitchen cupboards. 
  • Day 6 – finish writing the article. Then find someone to read it aloud to – this will help you spot clumsy sentences, missing words, bad grammar etc. (this bit can be in addition to the 48 minutes since it can involve the rest of the family and therefore isn’t strictly ‘writing time’).
  • Day 7 – spend the last 48 minutes having a final read through the article and then, submit !

For the purposes of simplicity I have assumed that the above activities will take place on 7 consecutive days. In reality there will probably be a gap between days 4 and 5 whilst you wait for a response to your pitch (fill this gap by starting work on a second idea). It might also be wise to leave a gap between days 6 and 7 so that you can re-read the article with fresh eyes before sending it off. 

That just leaves me to wish Sally a ‘Happy 48th Birthday’ and thank her for the challenge to write a blog post based on ’48’.

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Using Old Photos as a Writing Prompt

Back side of the photograph so called Carte de...

Image via Wikipedia

Have you ever tried using old photos as a writing prompt? That was the task we were set at my writers’ group last week but it’s something that could be done just as well at home to get the creative juices flowing.

Our session was broken down into the following steps (we spent 5 minutes on each one before going round the group and reading aloud) and these may help you to get going on your own as well:

  • Write from the point of view of one of the people in the picture – are they happy to be photographed or are they there under duress? Is their smile genuine or is it for the camera only and masking some personal tragedy?
  • Write from the point of view of the photographer who took the picture and try to include some of the senses e.g sounds, smells etc.
  • Write a piece of journalism about the scene in the picture – i.e. what newsworthy event could have affected these people or this place. Is one of them a murderer, a lottery winner or a kidnap victim? Was the building devastated by fire minutes after this picture was taken?
  • Imagine that the photograph has been lost for a number of years. You have found it, traced the original owner and are now handing it over to them. What is their reaction – are they happy, sad or angry to have this section of their past raked up again?

As a group we then discussed which of these exercises had been most inspirational and given us something to take away, work on and turn into a polished piece of work. My own preference was the last piece because it enabled past and present to be linked through back story, with the opportunity to create mystery for the reader by withholding selected information.  

The picture prompts work best if you don’t know the people in the photographs and therefore don’t have any preconceived ideas or go off at a tangent writing your family history. Bundles of old photos can sometimes be picked up cheaply in junk shops or car boot sales. Alternatively, try swapping pictures with a friend – recent pictures would work just as well, so long as you don’t know the people.

For some immediate picture prompts have a look here and then get writing! 

 

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